As COVID-19 outbreaks continue to rage through North Carolina state prisons, responsibility for this crisis lies squarely with Governor Roy Cooper and other state officials who have failed to heed the advice of public health experts and take adequate steps to protect the people in their custody. 

In April, the ACLU of North Carolina and a coalition of civil rights organizations, filed suit against state officials for their failure to protect incarcerated people under their custody. Public health experts had warned from the beginning that reducing prison populations is vital to combating the spread of COVID-19 and saving lives. But those calls have gone unheeded.

Governor Roy Cooper has refused to sign an executive order to halt jail admissions, release a meaningful number of medically vulnerable people, or allow people whose sentences are nearly up to be released.

Our lawsuit against the state has been an uphill battle that is still ongoing, but we have succeeded in forcing state officials to take some steps forward. 

On June 16, 2020, Wake County Superior Court Judge Rozier granted our motion for an emergency injunction, finding that the conditions inside North Carolina’s state prisons were likely unconstitutional, and ordered state officials to take a series of measures designed to combat the spread of COVID-19 in state prisons and protect medically vulnerable populations. Among other things, the court’s order requires state officials to:  

  • Test all people incarcerated in state prisons and conduct ongoing surveillance testing on a regular basis.
  • Halt transfers between prisons unless the transferred people are tested first or quarantined upon arrival at their facility.
  • Ensure that incarcerated people in medical isolation are in well-ventilated, temperature-regulated medical isolation rooms with solid doors and that the conditions of medical isolation are not punitive solitary-confinement-like conditions.
  • Identify expanded factors for consideration for early release, including medical vulnerabilities. 
  • Provide the Court with a facility-by-facility report on methods for allowing social distancing and preventing the spread of COVID-19 to newly-admitted individuals
  • Provide weekly reports on testing and the number of and reason for interfacility transfers. 

This court order recognizes the threat COVID-19 poses to incarcerated people, but unfortunately, state officials are resisting taking even these modest steps to protect the people in their custody.

That’s why this fight is not over and why we’ll continue to hold state officials accountable for saving lives and protecting incarcerated people from this deadly virus. Most importantly, we’ll keep pressing state officials to take the most important step of all: releasing more people from these death-trap conditions.